Will Video Kill The Still Photography Star?

After years of fits and starts, it seems that the much heralded convergence of still photography and video finally is on the verge of happening. Will you be ready for it?

This Article Features Photo Zoom

In 2003, I sat in a movie theater in Los Angeles, Calif., and watched a huge collection of still images from 1980s Hollywood come to life on the screen. The movie, The Kid Stays in the Picture, is a documentary about movie mogul Robert Evans. The directors, Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, portrayed the photographs by employing a pan-and-scan technique made popular by Ken Burns in his epic documentary The Civil War 13 years earlier. But they added a unique twist to the Ken Burns effect. Some of the photographs in their movie had a contrived 3-D effect similar to what you’d see if you looked through a kid’s View-Master viewer. That, combined with the compelling narrative by Mr. Evans himself, resulted in an extraordinary motion picture comprised primarily of still images. I wish I knew then that I was looking at a harbinger of the next evolutionary step of the photography industry.

The Youth Of Today
Veronica Wilson is a young, talented, up-and-coming photojournalist whose work I caught wind of about six months ago. Recently, Miss Wilson e-mailed me a link to what I assumed would be an online gallery of the photographs of a story she just finished shooting for an East Coast newspaper. It wasn’t—it was an audio interview of the subject of the photographs playing over a slideshow of the images—a multimedia piece. I could feel the hairs on the back of my purist photographic sensibilities start to stand on end. As I watched her presentation, it was obvious that the piece was solid and the photographs themselves were fantastic. I quickly realized that there was little difference between what Miss Wilson had done and what I lauded as great moviemaking in The Kid Stays in the Picture. A few days later, I came across a similarly styled photojournalism/multimedia piece on the widely read news website for the BBC. Miss Wilson wasn’t trying to set a new trend; she was competing with an existing one. (For more on this issue, check out the article “Photojournalism In The Age Of YouTube” on the DPP website—go to www.digitalphotopro.com/business/photojournalism-in-the-age-of-youtube.html.)

Multimedia Society
Survey your own online viewing experiences to understand how the audience for your work has evolved their expectations. If you find viewing a slideshow of an airplane landing in the Hudson River with a soundtrack of the dialogue between the pilot and the tower compelling, you’re not alone. Conversely, if you feel that adding a soundtrack to your own images would diminish the value of your photography, you will be alone.

The rookie generation of shooters like Miss Wilson already are indoctrinated with this multimedia way of thinking because of their very early exposure to the Internet. What they’re bringing to the table, unfettered by any predisposed idea of the traditional definition of a photographer, is exactly what contemporary commercial clients want to see available to them for their advertising campaigns. What they don’t have when compared to a veteran photographer is experience. However, in the shadow of technological prowess, the currency of experience will devalue rapidly unless those with it apply it to what’s shaping up to be the next era in our industry.

24 fps
Three years ago, wedding shooter William Henshall declared to me that wedding photographers were going to one day shoot high-definition video in their SLRs and pull frames from the footage for the photos. Even if he was right, I was confident in my skepticism that this practice would never spill over into the commercial world. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Last July, rumors started circulating that a few photographers were being asked to shoot catalogs with the RED Digital Cinema camera. The video would be used for, among other things, web snippets in the same vein as a YouTube video, and the images for the print publication would be pulled from the footage. At the time, corroboration wasn’t readily available. However, when I revisited the assertion for this article, I was able to get verification of the trend from two high-profile photographers’ agents who asked for anonymity. “In the last six months, several jobs were lost because of the video issue,” said one agent. The agents I spoke with were protective about which photographers were affected. But the trend is clear: Video now is a requirement for landing gigs.

The wedding world is changing, too. Mr. Henshall told me recently that the traditional, 30-minute wedding video with the schmaltzy soundtrack was being replaced with the three-and-a-half-minute, tightly edited YouTube-style video of the highlights of the wedding with a rocking soundtrack. Although this style of video has typically contained stills with transitions much like Miss Wilson’s presentation, Mr. Henshall assured me that high-definition video frame-pulls were just around the corner.

To get my head around the radical changes that I was uncovering, I tried to embrace the concept. I’ve worked in both still and motion, but in the latter format, I’ve almost always directed and rarely ran the camera. To me, applying a still photography discipline to a motion-capture device is counterintuitive. Photography at its philosophical soul is the “decisive moment.” How in the hell am I supposed to react to click a button with a video platform?

...I think this is a brilliant turn of events for photographers. It’s going to open up our industry to a broader horizon of creativity and wealth of new possibilities in terms of usage-rights income.

I brought the question to Jaron Presant, the director of photography who has shot many of the commercials I’ve directed. He theorized that the shutter-release button will evolve into an electronic flagging device, marking the frame of the digital video that the operator feels is the “decisive moment.”

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I bought into it. I could work this way. Much as a smoker in the process of quitting needs a pencil to hold in his fingers while chewing nicotine gum, I need to reactively push a button when I see a scene I like. If I have that, I don’t really care how I’m capturing the image as long as I’m getting the quality I’m seeking. And that’s the small levee holding back the wave of widespread adoption of the frame-pulling workflow. While the images are usable for some situations, they aren’t good for everything in advertising. In order to compress the visual information enough for effective throughput to the recording media, the effective size of the image sensor needs to be diminished, resulting in a lower-quality still frame as compared to a single-image capture. But that limitation quickly will be overcome. This growth phase is an ideal time to learn this style of shooting for the new era of photography. If we don’t, our industry will have to contend with a new group of competitors.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ready for serious HD video shooting, with Redrock Micro accessories. Red-Headed Stepchildren
The entertainment industry has always seen photographers as red- headed stepchildren—we’re family, but only by marriage. The border between the two fields has always been crowded with photographers looking over at the cinema side. Rarely do you find a DP looking back the other way; it would be considered a step down.

As video capture for stills (VCS) rapidly becomes a reality, DPs already are buzzing about moving in on our territory because work in their genre is diminishing with the current lousy economy. It will be a turf war about who’s more qualified to shoot the new technology. Having played on both sides of the fence, my vote goes to the photographer. We’re used to having every millimeter of our shot scrutinized. A DP has the luxury of hiding mistakes in the flow of the motion. Unfortunately, that point will be relevant only to the academics. Unless we present ourselves as capable of motion, clients will start looking at reels instead of portfolios.

Another advantage we have is the fact that we’re directly involved with the client. DPs are shielded from clients by a production company and a director. As you well know, dealing directly with clients, bids and politics is a skill unto itself that can come only from experience.

Telling Stories To Get A Gig: The Treatment
To win a commercial, a director has to submit a treatment to the client. This is a one-page story of the execution of the boards drawn by the art director. This demonstration of your creativity is crucial to getting a commercial gig. It’s like a mini-screenplay written in a narrative format.

The treatment is becoming more commonplace in advertising photography, as well. The same pitch that you use when you speak to an art director to try to win a photography job should go into your written job description. Getting into the habit of defining your vision in a short one- or two-paragraph narrative will put you in brilliant shape for the changes that are coming to our industry.

While a lot of people may have seen this sea change coming, very few could have predicted how fast it would be on top of us. Personally, I think this is a brilliant turn of events for photographers. It’s going to open our industry to a broader horizon of creativity and a wealth of new possibilities in terms of usage-rights income. Because whether it’s still or moving, you own it until you license it. Most of all, I love the fact that this will put a chasm-sized line of demarcation between us and the pedestrian public who call themselves photographers—because the new definition of photographer is one based much more on skill than on luck and access to digital stuff.

Louis Lesko is a freelance photographer, director, writer and frequent Digital Photo Pro contributor. He’s looking forward to the future of multimedia.


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